My mom was born in Bamberg, Germany on May 20, 1946. Her parents met right after the War. Saba Joe survived Buchenwald and Savta Ella survived forced labor at HASAG Munitions Factory. Savta never spoke about the War, so this is all we know. The few times I tried to ask she changed the subject. “You know what? You look hungry. Let’s have some babka and tea.” It’s fairly easy to distract me with food, but the truth is I didn’t want to pry.
Saba and Savta were married for 41 years and had one daughter, my mom. She has traveled extensively through Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and Australia, but she never returned to Germany.
When my dad was invited to lecture in Berlin, my parents felt conflicted but decided to attend and continue to Israel following the conference. Although unintended and coincidental, the symbolism of their travel dates struck me as nothing short of cosmic karma.
When my parents made their travel arrangements they didn’t realize that they would be in Germany on Yom HaShoah and subsequently in Israel on Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. Surely fate had something to do with this momentous timing, especially when they realized they would be in Israel for their 48th wedding anniversary. They were married on April 23, 1967, which this year happens to fall on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Some of the friends they will be celebrating with, were present at their wedding 48 years ago!
My parents found Berlin to be a vibrant, clean and orderly city. My mom visited the Jewish Museum whose foundation is almost 70 degrees lower at certain points. The Museum was designed by Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, and is rich in symbolism, spanning two thousand years of German-Jewish history. Jewish life has traditionally been on a different axis – sometimes up and sometimes down. The symbolism of the number 70 is hard to ignore on this portentous visit.
My mom sensed that the Germans are matter-of-fact about the Holocaust. They are, for the most part, accepting of their history but exceptionally nationalistic nonetheless. She was impressed by the number of public school class trips (of all ages) to the Jewish Museum. Young German children are not sheltered from their past – It is taught and accepted as part of their history. Dare I say that that is more than we see in many other parts of the world?
Conference attendees were invited to the Reichstag building for a celebratory dinner. Unfortunately, the dinner coincided with Yom HaShoah and I can only imagine that sitting in that building on that particular day was emotionally challenging. My mom looked around the opulent room and couldn’t help but recognize that 70 years (a short time, historically speaking) passed and yet so much had changed. The Germans can be proud of their accomplishments (some with the help of a great influx of money and influence from the American sponsored Marshal Plan). Today Germany is a model of economic stability and thriving society. Money did not restore Germany – pride and willingness to work did.
This story is not about forgetting and putting the past behind. It’s about never forgetting while conceding that our perspective evolves over time. Perhaps my mother needed to come full circle, returning to her country of birth to replace old demons with new experiences. I hope that for her, this year’s celebrations in Israel mark what’s here and now and real.
I cannot help but compare my parents’ journey from Berlin to Tel Aviv, filled with its inherent allegorical numbers and anniversaries, to my last visit to Yad Vashem. The entrance led in from the brilliant Jerusalem light into a dark cement zig-zag of walkways and bridges through hell. The museum is designed to lead visitors back into the light, via a set of glass doors that open onto a deck overlooking the magnificent hills, symbolizing today and all that the future holds. From Yom HaShoah to Yom Ha’atzmaut. From Germany to Israel.
We will never forget, but we will survive, thrive and flourish. Am Israel Chai, today and always.